The United States has expelled two Iranian security guards employed by Tehran’s U.N. offices after the mission was repeatedly warned against allowing its guards to videotape bridges, the Statue of Liberty and New York’s subway, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
“These individuals were moving around New York City and essentially taking photographs of a variety of New York landmarks and infrastructure and the rest,” Stuart Holliday, the deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters at U.N. headquarters.
A Foreign Ministry official in Tehran said the expulsions ran against international conventions on providing facilities for staff of foreign missions at international organizations “and lacks political judgment and moral value.”
At least the third incident
In Washington, Adam Ereli, a spokesman for the State Department, said it was the third time the United States “has required the departure of Iranian security guards for this kind of activity, which is inconsistent with their official duties.”
Security guards at the mission’s New York offices had been observed by the FBI photographing and videotaping transportation facilities and landmarks in the New York area in June 2002 and November 2003 and were warned against doing so, the officials said.
In the most recent incident, two guards — whose names were not released — were expelled in the past few days after being witnessed taking videotapes and photographs at such “sensitive places,” the officials said.
“We had to notify the mission that we had information that their security officials were not conducting themselves appropriately, and they took it upon themselves to accept the invitation to depart the country over the weekend,” Holliday said.
‘A recurring problem’
“This is a recurring problem,” Ereli said. “It represented a unique pattern that raised concerns of law enforcement. And it was our view that, based on previous behavior and what we were seeing, that this was the appropriate action to take.”
Filming in public places violates no U.S. law, but foreign diplomats can be expelled more or less arbitrarily, with little recourse.
U.S. officials said guards assigned to protect diplomats at Tehran’s U.N. mission typically stayed in the United States for just four or five months before returning home.
U.S. law enforcement officials first revealed their concern about the guards’ activities more than a year ago, disclosing in May 2003 that they intended to question two guards who had been seen photographing area bridges and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, which they said could be targets for terrorist attacks like those of Sept. 11, 2001.
Washington and Tehran severed diplomatic ties in 1980 after the seizure of 52 U.S. diplomats and the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and Iranian diplomats in New York formally represent their country only at the United Nations. They do, however, maintain quiet unofficial communication channels with U.S. authorities.
President Bush has named Iran as part of an “axis of evil,” along with Iraq and North Korea, intent on obtaining weapons of mass destruction.
Washington, joined by Britain, Germany and France, has been pressuring Tehran in recent months to renounce any ambitions to develop nuclear weapons and open all its nuclear facilities to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran insists that its nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful.